International Olympic Committee (IOC) is under fire for “actively playing a role” in helping China convince the world that they didn’t make the country’s former No. 1 ranked tennis star disappear after she accused a top communist official of sexual assault.
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, 35, vanished from the public eye after she accused Zhang Gaoli, a powerful Communist Party member, of raping her on social media. The post was quickly deleted, as was her account, and she was effectively erased from the Chinese internet. Days later, Shuai herself seemed to have also been erased.
In her distressing absence, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) threatened to yank all their tournaments out of China. The hashtag #whereisPengShuai began trending on social media, and famous tennis players Serena Williams and Martina Navratilova voiced their concern.
With the United States and a handful of other countries already considering a diplomatic ban of the upcoming 2022 Beijing Olympics, and the threat of an expensive WTA boycott of the country, a Chinese state-affiliated Twitter account released several undated images of Shuai out in public.
On Sunday, Shuai had a 30-minute long video call with IOC president Thomas Bach, and the organization released a still image of their conversation and a minimal recollection of the call.
“At the beginning of the 30-minute call, Peng Shuai thanked the IOC for its concern about her wellbeing,” they said in a statement. “She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time. She prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now.”
IOC Athletes’s Commission chair, Emma Terho, who was also on the call echoed the sentiment.
“She appeared to be relaxed,” Terho concurred. “I offered her our support and to stay in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated.”
But critics have said that China is known for human rights abuses and has a history of making people who are critical of the government disappear. The IOC has a vested interest in making sure the Beijing Olympics go off without a hitch, as 91% of the organization’s revenue is generated from corporate sponsors and broadcasting rights.
A spokesperson for the Human Rights Watch alleged that the IOC is “actively playing a role in the Chinese government’s enforced disappearance, coercion and propaganda machinery.”
The Global Athlete committee said that “The statements make the IOC complicit in the Chinese authority’s malicious propaganda and lack of care for basic human rights and justice.”